Japan captain Makoto Hasebe to miss Saudi Arabia qualifier with UAE needing a huge goal swing to qualify for 2018 World Cup
Japan can afford to ease off against the second-placed Saudis, who lost their most recent qualifier 2-1 to UAE last week in Al Ain
Japan captain Makoto Hasebe has withdrawn from the team's final World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on Tuesday, the Japan Football Association said.
Hasebe returned to Vahid Halilhodzic's starting line-up on Thursday for the first time since undergoing knee surgery in March, and celebrated a 2-0 win over Australia that sealed Japan's qualification for the tournament in Russia next year.
The captain has been joined on the absentee list by Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who was an unused substitute in Thursday's match at Saitama Stadium.
Having sewn up top spot in Group B of Asian qualifying, Japan can afford to ease off against the second-placed Saudis, who lost their most recent qualifier 2-1 to UAE last week in Al Ain.
However, with only the top two teams able to qualify for Russia directly, third-placed Australia will hope Japan can emerge with a win or hold the Saudis to a draw.
Australia, who are level with Saudi Arabia on 16 points but two in arrears on goal difference, host Thailand in Melbourne on Tuesday in their last qualifier.
With Australia's match scheduled first, Saudi Arabia will know exactly what they need to do to snatch the second direct ticket to Russia against Japan.
Both outcomes will have a bearing on the UAE national team's chances of qualifying for only their second World Cup.
As it stands UAE are fourth in Group B, and must win their final fixture on Tuesday against Iraq in Jordan to stand any chance of reaching Russia next summer.
At present, Edgardo Bauza's side could still usurp third-placed Australia and second-placed Saudi Arabia in Group B of the AFC qualification section, but would need both teams to lose their remaining matches, and a big swing in goal difference for that to happen.
Saudi, Australia and UAE can now all still claim second place going into the final round of games on Tuesday, with Saudi and Australia both on 16 points and UAE on 13.
For UAE to take second place they must beat Iraq, hope Saudi lose at home to Japan and Australia are beaten on home turf by Thailand. They also need a nine-goal swing over Saudi and seven over Australia to allow them to finish ahead of both sides on goal difference.
The group's third placed team must negotiate a series of playoffs to qualify.
Updated: September 3, 2017 05:02 PM